Quail spoke. His words faithfully interpreted the gen-eral opinion:
“What the hell, boys! Every spider’s got to spin his own web now!”
In Zacatecas and Aguascalientes, in the little country towns and the neighboring communities, haciendas and ranches were deserted. When one of the officers found a barrel of tequila, the event assumed miraculous propor-tions. Everything was conducted with secrecy and care; deep mystery was preserved to oblige the soldiers to leave on the morrow before sunrise under Anastasio and Venancio.
When Demetrio awoke to the strains of music, his general staff, now composed chiefly of young ex-govern-ment officers, told him of the discovery, and Quail, in-terpreting the thoughts of his colleagues, said senten-tiously:
“These are bad times and you’ve got to take advantage of everythin’. If there are some days when a duck can swim, there’s others when he can’t take a drink.”
The string musicians played all day; the most solemn honors were paid to the barrel: but Demetrio was very sad.
“Did he know why?
I don’t know why.”
He kept repeating the same refrain.
In the afternoon there were cockfights. Demetrio sat down with the chief officers under the roof of the mu-nicipal portals in front of a city square covered with weeds, a tumbled kiosk, and some abandoned adobe houses.
“Valderrama,” Demetrio called, looking away from the ring with tired eyes, “come and sing me a song—sing ‘The Undertaker.’”
But Valderrama did not hear him; he had no eyes for the fight; he was reciting an impassioned soliloquy as he watched the sunset over the hills.
With solemn gestures and emphatic tones, he said:
“O Lord, Lord, pleasurable it is this thy land! I shall build me three tents: one for Thee, one for Moses, one for Elijah!”
“Valderrama,” Demetrio shouted again. “Come and sing ‘The Undertaker’ song for me.”
“Hey, crazy, the General is calling you,” an officer shouted.
Valderrama with his eternally complacent smile went over to Demetrio’s seat and asked the musicians for a guitar.
“Silence,” the gamesters cried. Valderrama finished tuning his instrument.
Quail and Meco let loose on the sand a pair of cocks armed with long sharp blades attached to their legs. One was light red; his feathers shone with beautiful obsidian glints. The other was sand-colored with feathers like scales burned slowly to a fiery copper color.
The fight was swift and fierce as a duel between men. As though moved by springs, the roosters flew at each other. Their feathers stood up on their arched necks; their combs were erect, their legs taut. For an instant they swung in the air without even touching the ground, their feathers, beaks, and claws lost in a dizzy whirl-wind. The red rooster suddenly broke, tossed with his legs to heaven outside the chalk lines. His vermilion eyes closed slowly, revealing eyelids of pink coral; his tangled feathers quivered and shook convulsively amid a pool of blood.